Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book review: Coffee Shop Conversations, Dale and Jonalyn Fincher

Any Christian, or anyone who can't stand Christians, should find book helpful.

The really big deal is for Christians to be reminded that we need to be real human beings and treat others like real human beings made in God's image.  If you're a Christian, you'll get some solid biblical background for doing the human act, and if you're not, you'll understand that a lot of Christian obnoxiousness is rebellion against the gospel and not an expression of it.

Part I, "Making Spiritual Small Talk," isn't really about small talk.  It's about how to relate as a Christian to our fellow humans, which is a big deal.  It makes enough valuable points to make it worth the price of the book.

For instance, it argues capably that everyone we meet has something valuable to teach us about God,  no matter what their theology.

Unfortunately, the book does get shallow in the usual evangelical way.  For instance, it brushes off the history of Christian atrocities with the excuse that people of all kinds violate their professed beliefs and that that doesn't mean the beliefs are wrong.  For instance Buddhists on occasion  engage in violence, and that doesn't necessarily invalidate Buddhist teaching.

All that is true, but irrelevant.  The problem is not Christian misbehavior due to our human frailty.  The problem we have to deal with is the wickedness that Christians teach and aspire too, which they would not do if they were not Christians.  We owe people a real accounting for how Christianity routinely pours spiritual filth into the world and teaches people to make evil conduct a goal.  Certainly the Bible addresses that in Jeremiah, who declares that the prophets of Jerusalem have actually strengthened the hands of evildoers (Jeremiah 23), and for sure in the gospels, whose value is in their description of Christianity today, not in the long dead scribes and Pharisees whose ways and venomous teachings have been our own for many centuries with only rare dissent.  An honest accounting of our history and the corruption in the foundation of our doctrine is called for, and here the book does not deliver.

This carries into Part II, "Restocking Your Tools," in which there is some perfectly good advice, although even that is insipid compared to Part I.  It fails to rise above imposing various rules of interpretation on the Bible which are not found in it, thereby making these man-made rules supreme authority.  Reading stuff like this makes me wonder how evangelicals can criticize Roman Catholics for subjecting the Bible to church traditions.

It turns out that not subjecting the Bible to human tradition is more difficult than it looks.  My own view is that without God being around, and without us holding out for it being right all the way down, it just can't be done.  In Part I, there was some promise of getting there, but Part II fails to follow through.

Part III, "Helping Friends Home," feels to me like a review of Part I, a good read.  I have little more to say about it, because I already have.

Overall, an odd mix of bold and timid.  It's hard to follow Jesus and get really clear of the Christian crap.  Dale and Jonalyn Fincher are working on it.  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Thoughts on the lynching of Trayvon Martin after his death

"Hey, let's move on" always works in the eyes of oppressors and other wrongdoers, but it never works for the oppressed.  The usual answer to that is to shut them up with invasions and bombings, the whip and the gallows, or with a beating - depending on whether it's on the scale of the nation state, local jurisdictions, or an individual family.  American white people are heavily invested in not knowing what it's like to be a black person in this country - or people in Yemen or Pakistan, who are supposed to appreciate treatment that all Americans would answer with roadside bombs if they were in the same situation -  so they don't.

Marching German villagers to the camps in 1945 to see what they didn't want to see fueled plenty of discomfort, but not racial hatred.  That was what spawned the camps in the first place.  Making Americans see what they actually did in Indochina in the process or murdering over 3 million people wasn't comfortable, but it was necessary, and we're in a lot of the trouble we're in because that remedy was not properly applied and accepted 40 years ago.

The problem is that American racism is in the foundations of American national identity.  This nation was founded on slavery and genocide, and the problem was noted by even such as Abigail Adams and Samuel Johnson, who rightly asked in 1775:

"How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

Until Americans consider and arrive at a good answer to Johnson's question, we're not getting anywhere.  And it's a tough question, which drags in a few other questions, for instance:

- What is liberty anyway?  Is it the freedom to do whatever you want?  Nazis abounded in that sort of liberty where Jews and Roma were concerned, just as Americans treasured such liberty where robbing Indians and enslaving, flogging, and raping black people was concerned.  Let's remember that the American revolutionary impulse began in 1763 with the British order for Americans not to cross the Appalachians in order to rob and dispossess the Indian tribes.

- Do we find life and liberty by granting these to others, as Jesus and the prophets taught, or by enslaving others as slave-owning preachers of liberty like Jefferson, Madison, and Patrick Henry believed?  What drove them all nuts in Virginia in November 1775 is when the British governor, Dunmore, offered liberty to any slave that fled to him from the lovers of liberty like Jefferson and Henry. 

To a Christian like me, the issue is starkly put in Revelation 13: the faith and perseverance of the saints in the face of the regime of Antichrist is to know that those who live by killing people will die, and those that build their freedom on their captivity will be enslaved.  That tells me that the ideology of Antichrist is that our lives are ensured by the murder of others, and our freedom by their enslavement - and that has been the foundational ideology of the American nation since our fathers crawled up out of the ocean 400 years ago.

Such fundamental problems in our view of ourselves, in where we can live and move and be, are not fixed by superficial remedies.  Unfortunately, professing Christians are generally so apostate themselves in these matters, being actually in greater darkness than those around us, that no help is available from there.  It calls to mind what Jesus said: if the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

I think it's obvious that Jesus and the prophets are right - that slaughtering, enslaving, and plundering the world, and then lying to ourselves about it, is quickly leading to the loss of the life and liberty under the Bush-Obama regime that for centuries we have denied others.  And our boastful conceit, our airs about being the light of the world and so forth, are running into that law of the universe that pride comes before stumbling, and a haughty spirit before a fall.  Maybe centuries before, in some cases, as with Samaria and Judah, but eventually without fail, unless there is some fundamental repentance, unless the American war against the truth about ourselves comes to an end.  

Sunday, July 07, 2013

2 Independence Days

The US government has celebrated US independence the past few days by coercing its European satellites to interfere with President Evo Morales's flight home to Bolivia because it wanted to make sure that Edward Snowden didn't get away on his plane.

I'm kind of an old guy, so I remember when the US used to grant asylum to people like Snowden escaping from the Soviet empire, and it was the Soviet Union and its satellites that tried to make sure they didn't get away.  In fact, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novel about Stalin's gulag, "The First Circle," features the arrest of someone like Snowden.  I remember passing through Czechoslovakia with my parents when my father was the US ambassador to Guinea, back in 1962 when the old Stalinist Novotny was in charge.

They took care to assign us to a particular room in the hotel, the one that was bugged, and I sought in vain to find one of them.

Now it's the United States that is bugging the world and pursuing anybody that reveals the secrets of the regime.  Things have changed since I was the US ambassador's kid.

Venezuela celebrated its independence day, July 5, more appropriately by offering Snowden political asylum.  Lots of people in South and Central America are pretty offended by the US having had its puppets in Europe force down the Bolivian president's plane, so it's all of a sudden a lot easier for folks to offer Snowden asylum.  Nicaragua, and of course Bolivia, have also now done so.  Forcing down Morales's plane was not such a clever caper, turns out. 

Snowden is still stuck in the transit lounge at Sheremetyevo International Airport.  I wonder how long he'll be trapped there, like Cardinal Mindszenty, who was holed up in the US embassy in Budapest for 15 years after escaping from his life sentence for treason in 1956.  Snowden has done a lot for all of us, at great risk to himself revealing our imperial rulers for what they are.  May he find mercy and prosper on that account.